Talk the Talk

We’ve invited our wonderful Engagers to contribute reflections, articles, musings, etc., to our blog on a monthly basis! First up, Engager Minna Taylor. Read on, and don’t forget to subscribe to our blog via Bloglovin. – Erin

I was down in South Carolina with my parents over Thanksgiving. They are solidly in the baby-boomer generation and I am grateful for that. Anyone under 35 can appreciate our parents’ endearing curiosity about the latest gadgets that so far exceed their formative expectation of what technology could offer, that their engagement with said devices is what you expect from a child of my generation’s fascination with dial-up internet – the wonder it beholds! However, regardless of the technological acquisition (my mother is an avid Amazon shopper), they maintain a high level of analog nostalgia. They read the printed paper every morning, including completion of the crossword. They clip articles and mail them to me. They write letters. They have a landline telephone. Despite my awe at my mother’s crossword prowess, it was the telephone that spawned my consideration.

Much of my investigation into modern methods of communication has been on the loss of interpersonal comfortability and freedom in vocal expressiveness. There are a myriad of variables contributing to this social atrophy – fear, advertising, expectation of immediate gratification, privacy invasion – but I propose that it all began with the daily integration of our cellular devices. As advancements were made in our digital connectivity, so began the degradation of human connectivity. It has reached such an alarming degree that I assert many of us can go days – if not weeks – without engaging in truly meaningful conversation. That level of intimate sharing and presence is becoming an experience relegated to fairytales and John Hughes movies. We are losing the ability to say hello with an openness and allowance that was once standard engagement.

As I watched my parents pick up phone call after phone call, I began to consider the frequency with which I actually spoke to others in my life. My parents were expressing sincere interest and investment in the the conversations they were having. There is no way to compensate for that energetic sharing over text or email. No emoticon can represent the sparkle in my mother’s laugh or the warmth in my father’s tone. That is communication beyond the words and the level of communication that has now become reserved for the big things – birth, death, and marriage. It feels intimate to use our voices. To call?! To pick up the phone?! To consider taking some one’s time, anxiously waiting to say hello, all while secretly wishing that the savior of voice mail will prevent the firm, unquestioning attempt at contact with that person?! You commit to the following in a phone call: I want to talk to you. I am demanding your participation in a dialogue. You matter to me. I want to matter to you …

Let’s not, as we enter a new year, lose sight of the importance to exercise actions that make us human. We must reinvest in play, curiosity, patience, and community. The emotional and psychological effort required to make contact is a reflection of a constitution that is unexercised – atrophied. Slowly begin to integrate deliberate points of human contact and that fear you feel, that anxiety of engaging other people, will melt away. We will rediscover that we are all human and possibly empower ourselves to connect, embrace, and evolve toward a reintroduction of our basic right to use our voice and express ourselves freely. Go forth and engage.

Minna Taylor

Meet Our Team: Kayla Rivera

Kayla RiveraWhat is your role at The Engaging Educator? I am a Teen Camp Educator and also part of the Teen Facilitator Program.

Where are you from and how did you make it to NYC? I was born and raised in NYC.

When did you first start to love Improv? In the 6th grade when I took a 10 week course at my school.

What is something you want to Improv(e) on? I’m a really bad procrastinator so time management takes top priority on my list of things to get better with. I haven’t started yet, but I’ll do it eventually.

Where is your favorite place in the city? I love going to Union Square with my friends.

What’s a not-so-secret skill you have? Sometimes I sing a song from a musical that’s relevant to the situation I’m in. My friends consider this more of an annoyance than a skill.

“AaahhhOOOgah” makes me feel nostalgic and excited.

“Yes, and” to Netflix, books, whipped cream, hot chocolate, campfires, comfy sweaters, hugs, music, and pressing the stop button on the microwave right before it beeps

Meet our team: Lawrese Brown

Lawrese BrownWhat is your role at The Engaging Educator? I’m an engager.

Where are you from and how did you make it to NYC? I’m from New Jersey, but I’ve always worked in NYC. Right now, I’m also a Masters Student at NYU.

When did you first start to love Improv? I started to love improv two years ago after my first class. It became addictively refreshing to have a space where you’re supposed to be playful and mistakes are welcome.

What is something you want to Improv(e) on? Work/life balance. I’m convinced that’s not a real thing until post 40 or maybe when you have children – whichever comes first.

Where is your favorite place in the city? There’s a thrift shop near 8th street that I visit at least once a week. I’m certain my entire current wardrobe is from there.

What’s a not-so-secret skill you have? I love to cook. I don’t have time to cook as much as I’d like but my specialty dishes are eggplant parm with vegetarian spaghetti, stuffed peppers with quinoa and BBQ salmon cake wraps.

“AaahhhOOOgah” makes me feel fearless

“Yes, and” to late night carry-out Domino’s pizza, 75 degree weather, positive thoughts and new friends.

EE Turns 3! What’s next?

Three years ago, I started EE thinking it would be a nice nod to my solo career – and that’s it. Nothing more than a name that would be a way to sum up the scope of my freelance work. I remember my first public workshop – it sold out, but I didn’t charge people until they got there and half of them didn’t show up. I had a pieced together website that I made myself (shudder) and I was asking friends and coworkers to be in photos so I had some appearance of stability. Literally anything to look bigger than the imposter-syndrome ridden ex-actor that was trying to figure out how she fit in to museums and education.

EE-Nasher-PurpleThe three years following were great, good, ok, tearful, rough, rewarding and stressful. Up until this past June, I was also working as a museum educator, building EE on the side. I jumped on every travel engagement and job, worked for free and for photos and reviews. When I had more jobs than hours in the day, I started to hire my friends. Fired some of them. Learned a lot and got taken advantage of a lot, but didn’t sleep a lot – I was answering emails past midnight and trying to figure out how to do a business. Some people thought what I was doing was ridiculous – I distinctly remember overhearing a conversation at a museum I was working at as an educator, and two managers were making fun of EE and me. I’ve lost friends, business relationships, and personal relationships. The business side of business is hard enough – I actually think the personal side is much harder. Few people understand that you ALWAYS have to be working to some degree. I completely get why 75% of businesses close in the first three years, and it isn’t all financial. This is not and has not been easy, and won’t ever be easy. I was just telling my partner last night that I sometimes envy his working for someone else. Being a boss is hard, being an effective and good boss is harder and being your own boss on top of that is insanity.

Teen-Facilitator-WebThat being said, it HAS been so very worth it. I’ve built this amazing company, and I’m finally getting over my imposter syndrome and owning the fact that EE is pretty badass. We help a lot of people in a lot of ways, and we’ve done some cool stuff – and I just keep thinking about what next. I don’t like to dwell in successes – I see them much like I did when I was an actor. Get job, tell everyone I got job, leverage job for next job. Same thing with EE – get a job, speaking arrangement, press – take it, share it and use it to get something bigger. Build a program and then think, what next.
My favorite part in the last three years? I not only get to find and collaborate with like-minded folks, I also get to surround myself with people who are incredible at things I struggle with. I really think this is where people make mistakes in business – you should always surround yourself with people that do things better than you. It not only makes you better, but it allows you to focus on your skills – and they can focus on the skills they’ve mastered. And then next thing you know, you have a community of people that are invested and have ownership in your baby. And it’s not just a nod to a solo career – it’s a mission.

NC-Nasher-MuseumIt’s been a heck of a ride, and I and we would NOT be here without some very key people. Starting from a seed of an idea from a friend to lead a presentation skills workshop at the Brooklyn Museum – thanks Adelia Gregory – to people believing in me, EE and the good of improv above all things – thanks Sharon Vatsky, Hannah Jack, and Michelle Lopez. It’s all about a team incredibly skilled educators who I trust with the mission, that see it out and take ownership – thanks David Armstrong, Andrea Kamins, Don Waisanen, Jill Frutkin, Lawrese Brown, Kayla Rivera, Minna Taylor. It’s the newest of the new in the “stuff I don’t do well and need help with” – thanks Shaelyn Amaio – and the lady behind all of the organizational aspects of EE – thank you SO MUCH Erin Badenhop Moncada.

It’s all about the unwavering support from my absolutely incredible group of friends and family – so THANK YOU, David Armstrong, Angelina Salgado, Nick Pavlik, Shoshana Torn, Rachel Ropeik, and Mike Murawski for constantly saying “HEY YOU CAN DO THIS.” And it’s very much about the strength I’ve recently found to do this as my career, and the support and love from my partner Alex Brown.

And it’s all about every last one of our students, corporate clients, museums, schools, and organizations. Thank you so much for all of your support and business in the last three years.

So stay tuned, because we are far from done here. To all the Yes, And, all the AaahhhOOOgah and all of the What Next.


Meet our team: Minna Taylor

Minna TaylorMeet one of our newest Engagers, Minna Taylor of Energize Your Voice!

What do is your role at The Engaging Educator? I am an Engager!

Where are you from and how did you make it to NYC? I am from the beautiful Shenandoah Valley in Virginia and transplanted to NYC for college at NYU.

When did you first start to love Improv? I was obsessed with “who’s line is it anyway” as a kid. I was then exposed to live in-person improv in my hometown at my local coffee shop. I really started to love it as a practitioner when I was exposed to Grotowski in high school. What a visionary!

What is something you want to Improv(e) on? I would love to improv(e) my ability to approach strangers with confidence.

Where is your favorite place in the city? The Long Island City waterfront.

What’s a not-so-secret skill you have? I cook like a boss.

“AaahhhOOOgah” makes me feel Fearless.

“Yes, and” to coffee in bed on a cold Sunday morning.

Meet Our Team: Jill Frutkin

Jill Frutkin
-What do is your role at The Engaging Educator?
I am a new Engager, teaching Improv, Presentation Skills and Storytelling!

-Where are you from and how did you make it to NYC?
I’m originally from Western Massachusetts, moved to NYC for college and never left. My love affair with New York is going strong.

-When did you first start to love Improv?
I think I love it a little more everyday – seeing the ways it creeps into my daily life and the way I deal with embracing the present.

-What is something you want to Improv(e) on?
I want to find more joy in new situations! Also I really need to revisit driving an automobile.

-Where is your favorite place in the city?
Riis Park Beach, The Public Theatre, Prospect Park

-What’s a not-so-secret skill you have?
I can move my chin in a kind of unhuman way.

“AaahhhOOOgah” makes me feel freedom!

“Yes, and” to stovetop espresso, live music, green vegetables, and the library.

Learn more about Jill at

Meet our Team: Erin Badenhop Moncada

ErinBadenhopMoncada-What do is your role at The Engaging Educator?
I joined EE in May 2015 as the Administrative Coordinator: I manage the calendar, liaison with venues, schedule instructors, serve as first contact for client inquiries, schedule pithy social media posts, write press releases, and exhaust the possibilities of Google Sheets!

-Where are you from and how did you make it to NYC?
I’m originally from Petaluma, CA, but spent most of my adult life in Seattle. I moved to NY in August ’14 with my husband, who’d lived here a while ago, and wanted to move back. I was game to try a new coast, and we took 6 magical days driving across the US to settle in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn.

-When did you first start to love Improv?
I did a fair bit of improv as a kid in various theatre groups, but it wasn’t until college that I really dove in. I joined the traveling drama team my Junior year, presenting improv shows and workshops regularly up and down the west coast. That was 11 years ago, and it was the last time I’ve formally done improv, though I use improv skills, onstage and in every day life, constantly.

-What is something you want to Improv(e) on?
I want to sharpen my marketing skills, and I’m always looking for ways to improve my efficiency and organization! And working for idea machines like Jen challenges me to dream big, and not limit myself.

-Where is your favorite place in the city?
I’m still learning about so many awesome places, but for now, there’s 2: The Brooklyn Flea Market, and Oak Wine Bar in Williamsburg.

-What’s a not-so-secret skill you have?
I was a competitive Irish Step Dancer until age 19. It’s mostly a party trick these days, but I can still bust some moves.

“AaahhhOOOgah” makes me feel excited and scared in all the best ways!

Help us engage SXSW 2016!

We need YOUR help…
To Engage the SXSW community in 2016!

Earlier this year, we presented at SXSWedu 2015, the premiere conference for the future of education (check out this post on our takeaways from the experience!). In 2016, we want to return to SXSWedu with 2 Improv based workshops. AND we are aiming to present at SXSW Interactive, which focuses on cutting-edge technology and digital creativity. You can help us return to Austin!

We have submitted 3 panels in consideration, and we would love for you to 1) VOTE FOR and 2) SHARE our submissions.

– Vote for our SXSWedu 2016 submissions:
Improv(e) The Writing Process
Improv(ing) Presentation Skills

– Vote for our SXSWInteractive 2016 submission:
Improv and Design Thinking for Collaborative Teams

Please click, vote (By September 4th!) and share these links with all you can. We appreciate your support!

Thank you – and all of the AaahhhOOOgahs!

Jen + all of us at The Engaging Educator